workwear is about mixing it up

Ladies, leave your suits at home: This spring, workwear is about mixing it up and being a little less structured. Dressing for the office continues to move away from the fashions that remained popular until about a decade ago — the skirt- or pantsuit — and is now focused on mixing up basics. Easy-to-move-in pull-on pants or pencil skirts with a bit of stretch pair with blouses, tunics and sweaters.

“This has been a long-term trend,” says Jane Harrick, owner of the Avenue Clothing on Whyte Avenue. “Ten, 15 years ago, suits and structured clothing was very much the norm for office wear and workwear. Those days are gone.”

Harrick says Avenue carried 10 different styles of suits back then, while today they usually carry only one or two, and today’s have a little bit of spandex for movement. She says customers want style coupled with comfort and suggests that typing in a stiff blazer or sitting all day in bottoms that didn’t quite hit the waist properly likely contributed to the change in workwear fashions.

Beyond the basic mix-and-match, what else is on trend this spring? Choose from neutrals with a pop of colour; layers; high-waisted pants and skirts; wide-leg pants; pull-on pants; pencil skirts; casual dresses; and leggings. Don’t forget to finish any outfit with a statement piece of jewelry or a scarf.

“Those are the staples,” Harrick says. “A colourful legging, (pants with) a nice wide waistband that’s going to move with you: those are the bottoms that are a constant. And wide-leg pants are really big (right now), they’re just so comfortable and they look really nice on a lot of different body types.”

Harrick says a common complaint she hears from customers is about the constantly changing temperature in the offices where they work. Her solution? Cardigans and sweaters pair nicely with blouses and dresses, but can also be layered over weekend outfits. In fact, versatile workwear that transitions to weekend errands and nights out is what many women seek in office wear these days.

“Everyone’s life is just so busy that when it comes to choosing clothes, I don’t think people want a lot of work; they don’t want to go off to the dry cleaners,” Harrick says.

Margot Ross-Graham is the principal consultant at her company Sandbar Coaching and Consulting and has worked in human resources for 30 years. She is also the workplace columnist for CBC Radio Edmonton’s morning show. She has noticed a change in women’s work attire, too. “You see fewer and fewer women wearing suits in the workplace — (there are) lots of dresses with cardigan sweaters or dresses that have sleeves, but I think that’s completely and totally respectful of the workplace.”

It’s not that there are no longer any rules, she adds. Yes, our clothing choices express our personality and Ross-Graham recognizes that, but when it comes to how we dress for work, the company itself has to be taken into consideration. “I think what you wear in the workplace is a reflection of you, but it’s also a reflection of your organization,” she says.

It all comes down to guidelines. If your current employer has none or does not enforce them, Ross-Graham’s rule of thumb is to take a look around. “The best policy to follow is what does your boss wear on Fridays? And that’s probably a good indicator of what you should wear. … If you’re in an office environment you want to think about going to work versus going to the gym. Different women’s trends will often have longer shorts, like walking shorts, and I think that’s perfect. But really, really short shorts, or really, really short skirts — something we’d wear to a bar — is not appropriate for work.”

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